What is the significance of Indian women footballers playing in foreign leagues?
Indian women footballers achieved the pinnacle of glory as four of them landed professional contracts abroad.
Indian women footballers achieved the pinnacle of glory for Indian football when four of the most talented athletes landed professional contracts in some of Europe's top leagues. However, Manisha Kalyan reached the zenith by and might become the first Indian to play in a UEFA tournament and her contract will bring the country more than just glory. Let's take a look at the players who made history and the significance of this historic event:
Ngangom Bala Devi became the country's first female footballer to sign a professional contract outside of the country. The magical number 10's achievement of signing a professional contract abroad in January 2020 became one for the books and records. The Indian forward had just revealed her signing with Rangers FC of the Scottish Women's Premier League. This was an unprecedented and unrivaled achievement in Indian football history.
The world was at her feet, or at least the honour of Indian football. The former captain had done enough with humiliating adversaries in the Indian Women's League (IWL) with her sleek, classy finishing and scoring prowess. As a result, having overcome the trades of Indian football, a European stint was the only legitimate career boost she required at the time. She made history again in December 2020 when she became the first Indian woman to score in a European professional league. Bala scored the game's first goal in a Rangers' 9-0 win over Motherwell.
Bala Devi suffered career-threatening ACL damage during her time abroad and had to undergo surgery. Following the surgery in September of last year, the veteran striker is nearing full fitness and looking for new challenges and opportunities in foreign leagues. Despite the fact that there are certain interests, nothing has been made concrete.
Aditi Chauhan, India's first-choice goalkeeper, had signed with Icelandic club Hamar Hveragerdi. She represented the club in the country's third division of the women's football league system. The club is a multi-sport facility that fielded their first women's team in 2020.
Aditi, who won the Indian Women's League (IWL) with Gokulam Kerala FC this season was the second Indian woman footballer to sign a professional contract with a European club. Aditi conceded only four goals in eleven games in the IWL this season.
Aditi previously played semi-professionally for West Ham United Ladies while studying for her MSc in Sports Management at Loughborough University in London. Aditi had spent two seasons with the Hammers before arriving back to India. However Aditi is yet to begin on this journey.
Grace is the third Indian woman player to sign a professional contract outside of South Asia, following keeper Aditi Chauhan and forward Bala Devi. Grace was inspired by midfielder Bembem Devi, who spent a season in the Maldives. The India international has agreed to a six-month contract with FC Nasaf. The Uzbek club was established in 1986.
The agile winger from the small village of Dimdailong in Manipur comes from a farming family and is feared for her electric pace and exceptional dribbling skills. In 2019, she was named the 'AIFF Emerging Player of the Year,' and he shone with a brace against Indonesia in the Olympic Qualifier Round 2 match.
Dangmei joined Gokulam Kerala after beginning her IWL career with Imphal-based KRYPHSA FC and winning the tournament with Sethu FC. The fiery forward drew international attention during the AFC Women's Club Championship 2021, where she stood out against Bunyodkar.
Nasaf reportedly wanted Dangmei Grace in January, but she was under contract with Gokulam Kerala at the time. The Uzbek club was willing to wait until the Indian Women's League (IWL), which Gokulam Kerala FC (GKFC) easily won, to go ahead with the move.
Manisha played for Gokulam Kerala for three years, winning the Indian Women's League (IWL) twice. In the AFC Women's Club Championship last year, the 20-year-old winger became the first Indian woman to score in a top-tier Asian competition. In 2021, the pacy left-wing forward made headlines when she scored for India in a friendly tournament against Brazil.
Manisha, the AIFF Women's Emerging Footballer of the Year 2020-21 Award winner, is from Hoshiarpur in Punjab and could become the first Indian to play in the UEFA Women's Champions League. She had previously played for BBK DAV Football Club, Paldi Football Academy, Kenkre FC, Sethu Madurai, and Doaba Sporting Club on short-term contracts.
According to the AIFF website, she has played 51 matches for club and country, scoring 40 goals. With 14 goals, she was the league's second leading scorer this season winning the Indian Women's League with Gokulam Kerala FC.
Significance of the moves
While the accomplishments will bring the players personal glory, they will also have a significant collective impact on the ecosystem of Indian women's football. These feats will bring a lot of exposure to the players and their former clubs, putting the newcomers in the spotlight as we move forward.
The success of the elite camp will provide motivation to organise more of these, as well as encourage more scouts from other countries to come through in search of raw talents to shape and nurture. When these players return to their roots, they will bring with them a wealth of tactical knowledge that they can pass on to their teammates and younger players, thereby assisting them.
The competition faced by these players in these countries' top leagues will prepare them for more international games for the national team, paving the way for more Indian footballers to achieve this historic feat, making it a regular occurrence.